Fil-Am judge pleads not guilty to fraud charges

Connie Macatula De Leon, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Apr 28 2017 08:56 PM

CHICAGO - A highly regarded Filipina judge from Illinois is now fighting to clear her name in court.

49-year-old Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, the first Filipino American elected judge in Illinois, was arraigned by her fellow jurist, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan, on Wednesday at the Dirksen Federal building in Chicago.

O’Brien was charged with one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, and one count of bank fraud.

Over a decade ago, O’Brien allegedly made false representations and concealed material facts in documents submitted to lenders in order to get substantial loans. 

The allegations say that O’Brien used the loans to purchase and refinance about $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans.

At the arraignment, O’Brien pleaded “not guilty” and invoked her constitutional right for a speedy trial.

The attorney for the government was asked by Judge Finnegan how much is the alleged amount. 

Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Madden said that he has not calculated it yet but thinks that it is between $600,000 and $700,000. This is a different amount than what was alleged in the government’s indictment of $1.4 million.

It is not only the Filipino community that is still in shock after news first broke. O’Brien’s colleagues could not believe what happened to Judge Jessica, as well.

“I was in shock. When you see somebody that you know, a friend, or a colleague, in the paper for something like that, it’s shocking but at the same time, I know Jessica as a person,” said Nora Iniguez, a former co-worker.

O’Brien’s lawyer, Ricardo Meza, said that O’Brien and her husband are respected members of the community and that she is not a flight risk.

The judge turned down the prosecutor’s request for an unsecured bond of $100,000. O’Brien was released on her own recognizance; $4,500 is to be paid if O’Brien fails to appear in court.

Carlos Cortes, a kababayan of Jessica from Cebu, showed support for O’Brien.

“‘Lahat naman tayo presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “We always give chance for the person or the accused to prove her innocence or his innocence.”

O’Brien’s friends remain positive.

“To hold her head up high. She is a great person, she is loved by so many people, she has accomplished so much,” said Iniguez. “We are all human beings. We all go through struggles and trials in our lives and it is just gonna make her stronger.”

“Lakasan mo ang loob mo. Ganon naman talaga, hindi maiwasan, ang kaso hindi naiwasan gaya ng taxes at kamatayan,” said Cortes.

O’Brien, who showed up with her husband, Judge Brendan A. O’Brien, was overwhelmed by the show of support from friends and families. 

The preliminary hearing date is yet to be determined.

Read more on Balitang America.